Sony unveils glorified Net appliance

Sony unveils glorified Net appliance

Sony unleashed a panoply of high-tech gizmos at the Consumer Electronics Show here on Friday, offering new ways to blend consumer electronics with personal computers and content from the Internet.

Among the products unveiled was the eVilla Entertainment Center, a glorified Internet appliance that allows home users to access e-mail, news reports and online shopping sites, as well as download multimedia content such as video clips and Internet radio stations.

Due to ship in the second quarter of 2001, the eVilla is priced at $US499 and comes with a 15 inch, flat-panel Trinitron display of the type used in Sony's Wega televisions. The unit runs on Be's BeIA operating system, uses the Opera Web browser from Opera Software, and will play multimedia content delivered in Real Networks's Real format.

"This network entertainment centre not only allows users to enjoy entertainment aspects of the Internet in new ways, but does away with the inconveniences of a PC," said Mike Vitelli, president of Sony's consumer electronics group, speaking at a press conference here.

To use the appliance, users will need to subscribe to an eVilla Internet service provider (ISP) chosen by Sony. The system has no hard drive, but users will receive 10MBs of online storage with their ISP account. The unit also works with a Zip drive via one of two USB (universal serial bus) ports, and includes a slot in the front for Sony's MemoryStick storage media.

"The price is very impressive," said Richard Doherty, director of US-based market research company The Envisioneering Group. "That 15 inch Trinitron screen is not your average display."

The eVilla connects to the Web using a 56Kbps dial-up modem and also includes an Ethernet port for "future broadband access". Sony officials were keeping mum about the microprocessor driving the unit.

Also unveiled here was the "Infostick", an expansion module that brings wireless Bluetooth capabilities to any device that supports Sony's MemoryStick. Slotting the Infostick into the MemoryStick bay of a digital camera, mobile phone, PC or other device allows users to transmit images and other data wirelessly from one device to the next.

A Sony representative showed a working prototype of the Infostick being used to transmit a digital photograph from a camera to a Bluetooth-enabled notebook computer. Pricing wasn't announced for the product, but is expected to be available later this year, the representative said.

Also on show was a prototype of a portable "AV/IT gateway device", a feature-rich Web tablet that can be used to surf the Internet, send and receive e-mails, and watch television broadcasts or MPEG 2 video streams around the home. The device consists of a portable LCD screen about the size of an A4 notepad, which works in conjunction with a base station equipped with a wireless modem and terminals for telephone, audio and video inputs.

The base station uses 2.4GHz wireless technologies that provide access to audio and video content at a range of up to 30 metres in ideal conditions, Sony said. The LCD screen is touch sensitive and can also be used as a remote control for controlling a DVD player or digital satellite TV box.

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